What's a word to a dog?

In my dog training I’m always explaining that words mean nothing to dogs, and words when timed incorrectly can work to even reward behaviours that you don’t want.

An example of this is with barking, often through speech we unwittingly reward barking by saying: ‘Be Quiet’, that’s because we’re joining in, and reinforcing the dog’s barking.

Dogs rely on smelling your moods through your breath and sweat combined with minute facial expressions and body language to understand what you’re meaning.

But the association of learned ‘words’ that lead to a positive trained cue or event like ‘Walkies’ or ‘Dinner’ reveal we could be missing a trick about what makes our dogs tick.

Communication gets lost in translation in other ways too. It’s a misnomer to think your dog is tired when he yawns. Yawning is a way that your dog is communicating to you to say in ‘dogs’ body language that he is feeling overwhelmed.

By understanding a variety of dog ‘calming signals’, which also include heads turning away and eyes blinking, we can adapt our behaviour to make our dogs feel more at ease.

That’s why I like to think of my dogs as barometers for my own stress, and why they’ve been such guides through the ‘Lockdowns’. 

In a recent survey of over 4,000 pet parents who compiled lists of key words that their dog responded to most, whilst experts analysed the comparative heart rates of each dog once these words or phrases were spoken.


What is in a word? Dogs do not understand speech as much as body language


Based on an average resting heart rate of 115 BPM, the word ‘walkies’ is the most ‘paw-rific’. It raised the average heart rate to 156 BPM, or by a whopping 38 per cent.

In close second food related words like dinner raised Britain’s pooches heart rates to 152 BPM or by 32 per cent.

Saying ‘treat’ raised excitement to 151 BPM or by 31 per cent to take the third place in the tail wagging test.

At the bottom end of the scale were phrases including: ‘shall we go home” and ‘come on then’, with a shockingly low average BPM count at 100 BPM.

In my book words used for training like ‘come on then’ should raise heart rates the most.

It’s the cue that delivers praise, your attention and high value treats. It’s combining the third most tail wagging word, ‘treat’, to achieve the most important training command – to come here!

Besides if your doggy reliably comes when he’s called, the reward is more time off lead to benefit from the most favourite word – ‘walkies’.

What the study is unexpectedly revealing is that we’re not spending enough time training dogs to do what they might not think they want to do.

Training words like ‘rollover’, ‘paw’ rollover or ‘find it’ seemed to barely raise heart rates at all! Only yielding a very disappointing 117 BPM and 100 BPM respectively.

The study also investigated if certain breeds were more responsive to training commands than others.  Interestingly the top five eager learners were: Frenchies, Beagles, Rottweilers, Labradors and the Dachshund.

In pole position Frenchies average heart raised by 28 per cent doing fun games, followed closely by Beagles at 26 per cent. 

Overall the Labrador took the biscuit as the best all rounder, responding both to training, walkies and foodie words on average by 21 per cent.

I believe that when you turn your dog’s world into a game based on rules and team work, you’ve hit the jackpot in relationship building, developing focus and communication.